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Fluoridated water credited for improved dental health

Fluoridated water is credited as one of the reasons why Americans' dental health has improved over the years. Dental fillings, for instance, have decreased 50 percent since 1959.

Fluoridated water protects against cavities and root caries – a progressive erosion of adult root surfaces caused by gum recession – and helps remineralize early carious lesions. Thanks to these preventive benefits, public water fluoridation is considered the most efficient and cost-effective dental caries prevention measure available. More than 144 million United States residents in more than 10,000 communities drink fluoridated water, most from public water supplies with sodium fluoride added artificially. A small percentage get water from private wells with naturally fluoridated water.

The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the accepted "optimal" range of fluoride in water lies between 0.7 and 1.2 parts per million (ppm) or mg per liter. The limit allowed by the EPA in public water is 4 ppm. Backed by results from more than 140 documented studies undertaken in 20 different countries over the past several decades, fluoridated water adhering to these standards has been scientifically established as safe for drinking. Water fluoridation is endorsed by nearly every major health and safety-related organization. Fluoridation of community water supplies is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay and to improve oral health for a lifetime.

Another reason to be concerned about intake of fluoridated water is that people are drinking more bottled water, which contains minimal amounts of fluoride. In-home filtration systems may also eliminate the fluoride in tap water.

Parents of young children or infants should be particularly concerned about adequate fluoride intake and should consult their dentist about the need for daily supplements or a change in diet. The annual cost to fluoridate water is approximately 51 cents per person per year. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that every dollar invested in fluoridation saves $80 in dental bills.

Public health focus: fluoridation of community water systems. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.